DuPage is poised to get more help from the federal government to combat heroin use and the growing number of related deaths in the county.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy recently announced that DuPage has been added to the Chicago High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. As a result, the county is eligible to receive additional funding and resources, including intelligence and specialized equipment.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said that will enable the county's law enforcement agencies "to disrupt and dismantle the trafficking networks that are bringing deadly drugs into our community and killing our residents."
Berlin told county board members Tuesday night that the county is "in the midst of a heroin epidemic."
"The number of heroin and heroin-fentanyl overdose deaths in DuPage County has grown from 39 in 2014 to 78 in 2016," said Berlin, adding that there's been an increase in the number of heroin possession cases.
As part of its multitiered effort to address the problem, DuPage has been educating the public about the dangers of heroin and getting addicts into treatment. Meanwhile, Berlin says authorities are "aggressively" prosecuting drug dealers and dismantling drug trafficking organizations.
He said the DuPage County Metropolitan Enforcement Group provides assistance to local police departments investigating drug-induced homicides.
"Due to the frequency and complicated nature of these cases, law enforcement officials realized the need for additional resources," Berlin said.
So DuPage authorities applied to have the county designated as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Other local counties in the program include Cook, Kendall and Will.
DuPage was one of 16 newly designated counties announced last month.
"This designation enables the 16 counties to receive federal resources to further the coordination and development of drug control efforts among federal, state and local law enforcement officers," Berlin said.
He said DuPage will benefit from ongoing HIDTA initiatives that are working to reduce drug trafficking across the nation.
The HIDTA program was created by Congress in 1988. Law enforcement organizations working within the designated areas assess drug-trafficking problems and design specific initiatives to decrease the production, transportation, and distribution of drugs, officials said.
Berlin said there is a need for DuPage to be part of the program now.
"What we're trying to do is get to the source of the drugs coming into the county," he said. "It's easy to arrest the small-time drug dealers. We're trying to go after the big drug trafficking organizations. It's going to have a huge impact on public safety."